11:1-3 Faith always has been the mark of God's servants, from the beginning of the world. Where the principle is planted by the regenerating Spirit of God, it will cause the truth to be received, concerning justification by the sufferings and merits of Christ. And the same things that are the object of our hope, are the object of our faith. It is a firm persuasion and expectation, that God will perform all he has promised to us in Christ. This persuasion gives the soul to enjoy those things now; it gives them a subsistence or reality in the soul, by the first-fruits and foretastes of them. Faith proves to the mind, the reality of things that cannot be seen by the bodily eye. It is a full approval of all God has revealed, as holy, just, and good. This view of faith is explained by many examples of persons in former times, who obtained a good report, or an honourable character in the word of God. Faith was the principle of their holy obedience, remarkable services, and patient sufferings. The Bible gives the most true and exact account of the origin of all things, and we are to believe it, and not to wrest the Scripture account of the creation, because it does not suit with the differing fancies of men. All that we see of the works of creation, were brought into being by the command of God.
Heb 11:1-40. Definition of the Faith Just Spoken of (Heb 10:39): Examples from the Old Covenant for Our Perseverance in Faith.
1. Description of the great things which faith (in its widest sense: not here restricted to faith in the Gospel sense) does for us. Not a full definition of faith in its whole nature, but a description of its great characteristics in relation to the subject of Paul's exhortation here, namely, to perseverance.
substance, &c.—It substantiates promises of God which we hope for, as future in fulfilment, making them present realities to us. However, the Greek is translated in Heb 3:14, "confidence"; and it also here may mean "sure confidence." So Alford translates. Thomas Magister supports English Version, "The whole thing that follows is virtually contained in the first principle; now the first commencement of the things hoped for is in us through the assent of faith, which virtually contains all the things hoped for." Compare Note, see on Heb 6:5, "tasted … powers of the world to come." Through faith, the future object of Christian hope, in its beginning, is already present. True faith infers the reality of the objects believed in and honed for (Heb 11:6). Hugo de St. Victor distinguished faith from hope. By faith alone we are sure of eternal things that they ARE: but by hope we are confident that WE SHALL HAVE them. All hope presupposes faith (Ro 8:25).
evidence—"demonstration": convincing proof to the believer: the soul thereby seeing what the eye cannot see.
things not seen—the whole invisible and spiritual world: not things future and things pleasant, as the "things hoped for," but also the past and present, and those the reverse of pleasant. "Eternal life is promised to us, but it is when we are dead: we are told of a blessed resurrection, but meanwhile we moulder in the dust; we are declared to be justified, and sin dwells in us; we hear that we are blessed, meantime we are overwhelmed in endless miseries: we are promised abundance of all goods, but we still endure hunger and thirst; God declares He will immediately come to our help, but He seems deaf to our cries. What should we do if we had not faith and hope to lean on, and if our mind did not emerge amidst the darkness above the world by the shining of the Word and Spirit of God?" [Calvin]. Faith is an assent unto truths credible upon the testimony of God (not on the reasonableness of the thing revealed, though by this we may judge as to whether it be what it professes, a genuine revelation), delivered unto us in the writings of the apostles and prophets. Thus Christ's ascension is the cause, and His absence the crown, of our faith: because He ascended, we the more believe, and because we believe in Him who hath ascended, our faith is the more accepted [Bishop Pearson]. Faith believes what it sees not; for if thou seest there is no faith; the Lord has gone away so as not to be seen: He is hidden that He may be believed; the yearning desire by faith after Him who is unseen is the preparation of a heavenly mansion for us; when He shall be seen it shall be given to us as the reward of faith [Augustine]. As Revelation deals with spiritual and invisible things exclusively, faith is the faculty needed by us, since it is the evidence of things not seen. By faith we venture our eternal interests on the bare word of God, and this is altogether reasonable.